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Key Education Reforms Will Start at Rangoon University, Suu Kyi Says

Lawi Weng The Irrawaddy

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RANGOON—Reforming Burma’s underfunded and outdated education system is a key priority for raising living standards in the country and rebuilding higher education will start with improving academic education at Rangoon University, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Thursday .

Education reforms, Suu Kyi said, “cannot wait until our country has peace. Work needs to begin now.” “The day we can build a good foundation for education in our country will be the day that we do not have to worry about our future anymore.”

Suu Kyi was speaking at the start of a two-day NLD youth event organized by the party’s Education Network near Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, which was attended by hundreds of people. It aimed to put a focus on rebuilding education and raise funds for this effort.

“Our country is poor because of the [old government] system and it was not because of the people. In order to change the system, we need good education,” the NLD leader said. She added that rebuilding higher education would start with raising academic standards at Rangoon University.

“We have chosen to start our reforms of the education system with Rangoon University, because it is easy to start here and effective. It is not because it is located in Rangoon,” she said. “This university used to have a good reputation in Asia. But, it has no place any more in Asia … as we had a bad [government] system.”

The Burmese schools system suffered greatly under the former military junta as all aspects of teaching came under tight control of the central government after 1974. Education budgets were slashed in favor of military spending, which took about 25 percent of spending, compared to 1.3 percent for education.

President Thein Sein has pledged to improve education and seek foreign expertise to lift education standards. Education spending was increased from US $340 million to $740 million, although this is still considered inadequate. A new higher education bill is currently being drafted by the Lower House.

Aung Min, a minister of the President’s Office, also attended the rally and briefly addressed the crowd. “Education is a national interest for all our people. We need to work together on this issue,” he said.

He said achieving peace with ethnic groups was important for this effort, adding, “We need national peace and reconciliation to let our children get an education.”

Suu Kyi said, “I want all people to think about what you can do to reform the education system in our country. Those who have money they can donate it, or those who only have labor, please donate your labor or encourage the success of the reform.”

She also stressed that Burma’s different population groups should learn each other’s language to foster mutual understanding and urged people to respect and aspire to have a good education.

At the NLD event, a hand-knit woolen sweater that the democracy icon had made for her children while she was living in England was auctioned for $49,000 to Shwe FM. “It is priceless because the sweater was made my `Amay’ herself,” Daw Nan Mauk Lao Sai, chairwoman of Shwe FM radio station, told the AP.

Several companies also contributed money. Sky Net donated about $150,000, MDG gave about $12,000 and $58,000 came from the Htoo Company—which is owned by Tay Za, a business crony of the former military regime who is on the US sanctions’ list.